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Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?
May 21st, 2013
04:45 PM ET

Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(CNN) - God may not notice the thousands of prayers tweeted for victims of Oklahoma’s devastating tornado - but Ricky Gervais sure has. And he is not pleased.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 75,000 people have used the hashtag #PrayForOklahoma, including pop starlets, pastors and politicians, according to Topsy.com, a trend-monitoring site.

For example, the White House tweeted,

But the hashtag and the sentiments it promotes prompted a fierce backlash on social media, led by Gervais, a British comedian, and other prominent nonbelievers.

And while one Oklahoma City pastor says he appreciates the Twitter prayers, some religious scholars say devout petitions require more than moving your hands across a keyboard.

"A prayer is supposed to have a consequence for you," said Elizabeth Drescher, a lecturer at Santa Clara University in California. "It's not an act of magic."

Gervais, an ardent foe of organized religion, was more caustic.

After MTV tweeted that pop stars Beyonce, Rihanna and Katy Perry are sending their prayers to Oklahoma, Gervais responded, “I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money.”

Gervais and other atheists also kick-started a counter-trend, using the hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.

“If all people are doing is praying, it is worthless,” Hemant Mehta, an Illinois math teacher who writes the blog “Friendly Atheist,” told CNN. “If they are praying and donating to the Red Cross, that’s more like it.”

Mehta is promoting a group called Foundation Beyond Belief that aims to provide a humanist response to crises like the Oklahoma tornado.

The prayer debate spilled into other social media sites as well, with commenters on CNN’s Facebook page sparring over God’s role in Monday’s destructive whirlwind.

According to Oklahoma officials, 24 people have died, many more are injured, and once-orderly streets look likes foretastes of the apocalypse.

In response to a woman who said she was praying for the victims, Facebook commenter Peter Tongue replied, “If prayer works, there wouldn’t be a disaster like this in the first place .... so please keep your religion to yourself.”

But believers had their say as well.

“God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention. … My sympathy and prayers go out to those who get caught up in his demonstrations of (God) ruling the world.”

The social-media sparring over prayer and God’s will reflect a culture in which traditional notions of religion - and the places where people talk about faith - are changing faster than a Twitter feed, said Drescher, the Santa Clara lecturer.

“We’re watching people re-articulate what it means to be spiritual and religious,” she said.

Just a few years ago, for example, no one knew what a hashtag was. Now the “#PrayFor...” meme appears after almost every national and international tragedy.

But what exactly does it mean? Is the tweeting multitude really folding its hands in prayer, or is it a fleeting expression of existential angst? Or maybe just a trendy thing to say?

“It seems to express hope and anxiety, and maybe even helplessness,” Drescher said.

“At the same time, it evokes this strong response from people who see it as a cop-out, a way of claiming some kind of spiritual space that doesn’t actually have any meaning to the people who are posting the meme or the community they are addressing.”

Traditionally, prayer has required something of the pray-er: an orientation toward reverence, a readiness to act, Drescher continued. “You are meant to do something - and that something may not be an easy thing.”

Slapping a hashtag at the end of a tweet doesn’t meet that standard, the scholar said.

The Rev. David Johnson of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City said the prayerful tweets mean something to him - even if he’s been too busy to read them.

Since Monday, St. Andrew’s has become a Red Cross command post and reunion site for families to find loved ones caught in the tornado’s path. The tragedy has also touched the congregation itself, with homes, and some lives, lost on Tuesday, Johnson said.

Told of the Twitter prayers, Johnson said, “that’s awesome.”

“People feel helpless - like God called them to do something but they don’t know what. That’s where prayer comes in.”

Johnson said his church appreciates the many material donations coming its way: the generator sent by a lady from Arkansas, the food and water sent from neighboring towns. But they also solicit, and are happy to receive, the many prayers recited - or tweeted - on their behalf, he said.

“We’ve seen quite a lot of trauma in the last day,” Johnson said. “Obviously, people are going to ask why God allows tornadoes to happen. That’s just part of this world. God doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen, he promises to help us get through it. That’s what prayer helps us do.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • United States

soundoff (3,515 Responses)
  1. Jeff

    Gervais is a genius.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  2. Ivan Libya

    Hey Christians, which would you rather have in time of tragedy? Circle one. Me pray to your god that you be healed, or me getting off the couch and actually doing something to help you?

    May 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I take it that you can do more than two things at once. 🙂

      May 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Sneezer

      I guess get off the couch to help since God won't hear your prayer – only those that are true followers and seek His will

      May 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Ivan Libya

      I can do lots, but if Christians honestly believed praying worked, that should be enough, no?

      May 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • lol??

      How 'bout just stayin' with yer libby friends in Libya??

      May 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  3. bobo

    Why is any of this on CNN? Do they want all of us to fight about God, or heaven? All I know is that in America....... you are free to believe in whatever religion you want and nobody should have to defend doing that.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • tom

      Non-believers should not be subjected to public figures and leaders expressing religious beliefs as if they represent the whole country. Keep your religious views to yourself and that applies to the non-believers. I don't want Obama saying our prayers are with you unless he is only referring to his family.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  4. Dan B

    There should be no problems in the world at all with all of the praying going on. What gives?
    Grow up you immature religious nuts.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  5. Sneezer

    I just sneezed a few minutes ago. A co-worker said "God Bless You" to which I said "why do you say that?

    They didn't have much an answer, just to say it's the "polite" thing to say. I get that, but where did it originate from? I have heard that people started saying it many many years ago to release assist in releasing evil spirits from the body. Really? So, if one of you here say "God Bless You" after someone sneezes, do you realize what/why you are saying?

    My point just comes down to the fact we do things to keep the status qou and peace among us. Praying for Oklahoma is just that – everyone has their right to acknoledge and show support however possible – yet, as a Christian, I sure hope they are genuine and authentic in their prayers to our Lord during this tragedy

    May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Twister Sister

      I think religious people should also bless people after they fart or puke. Flatulent and nauseous folks need Gaawd's love too.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  6. veggiedude

    If prayer worked then Islam would be ruling this world. They pray five times a day. On all hands and knees. Can you beat that?

    May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Dan B

      Religion is more prevalent in backwards societies (like the southern U.S.)

      May 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Ivan Libya

      Lol, word! But to Christians, they'll just say they are praying to the wrong god.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Not all of us say that.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  7. rock gentry

    WHEN DID IT BECOME THE GOOD OF THE FEW OUTWEIGH THE GOOD OF THE MANY??!! This is supposed to be a democracy where people decide what they want majority rules. So why is these few non-belivers always get what THEY want? a whole town want a 10 commandment plaque but 1 whiner says lawsuit and they get their way. MAYBE THESE TOWNS SHOULD START LAWSUITS ATHEIST GROUPS FOR INFRINGING ON THEIR RIGHTS. They always scream fairness but how is it fair when believer have to cave? If you don't believe fine your choice but why do you think you should have the right to decide for me? Don't throw YOUR version of freedom of religion crap out there either. the founding fathers where religious men and more than likely were not meaning it to used againest those who believe. When people say things on twitter or where ever about their prayers its just to let those folks know they are supporting them!! Maybe instead of trolling all the time looking for anyway to promote your atheist agenda you should spend that time doing things for yourself instead of causing decent people grief. This BS and political correctness has got to stop. And on top of all this who gives a crap what some non-believing Brit has to say about what we do here. things are going so well there aren't they

    May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Julie

      Atheist stand up to religious bullies like you. Keep your religion out of buildings paid for by "EVERYONES" taxes. Keep it out of schools. Stop trying to dictate who can get married or what a women wants to do with their body. In other words keep your ignorance to yourself and you'll never hear from an atheist.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Twister Sister

      So if a dumb idea has a high enough critical mass of idiot followers, than nobody else should be allowed to question it?

      I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that you are sterile and have not repoduced.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Ivan Libya

      @Julie, Amen! Well not really, but great point. 🙂

      May 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Majority ruled when America was segregated. Majority ruled when slavery was legal. Majority ruled when sailors were whipped at sea. Majority ruled when Hitler took power. Majority ruled when Jesus was crucified. Majority ruled when Tennessee forced schools not to teach evolution. Majority ruled "witches" were put on trial in Salem. Majority ruled when the doctors believed that having a blood stained surgeon robe was healthy. Majority ruled when bathing was considered a sin. Majority ruled when women could not vote. Majority ruled when only landowners could vote in America. Majority ruled when states had government sanctioned religions (and other religions were outlawed.

      Get the point? Majority is not often right.

      Freedom of press and of expression should be kept and honored as a right.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • rock gentry

      Julie how is telling the truth being a bully–If the vast majority of parents in a school district -who ARE the ones paying the taxes want the commandments in their school and 1 atheist does not how is that fair? i said I don't care if one chooses not to belive but dont force your views on everyone else.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • kpotter7

      This is actually a republic (... and to the republic for which it stands..) in which the minority is protected from the majority. This is why a 2/3 vote is required in many cases, such as ratification of an amendment, instead of a simple majority.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • sam

      rick, everyone pays taxes. A majority deciding to make all the rules fit just their worldview tends to lead to tyranny and oppression. No one's going to let you get away with your nonsense in this country.

      If you want a theocracy, start your own.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Ivan Libya

      @Rock, you missed the point. There is no place for religion in publicly funded buildings/infrastructure that we cannot opt out of. You want to have your child go to a school where they teach religion and god, fine, pay for it, but don't do it on my dime and the dome of those who don't believe in your divine savior. And without even knowing it, you made our point, don't FORCE your views of religion on my kids at a public school which I also paid for.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Rock (headed) says:
      Julie how is telling the truth being a bully–If the vast majority of parents in a school district -who ARE the ones paying the taxes want the commandments in their school and 1 atheist does not how is that fair? i said I don't care if one chooses not to belive but dont force your views on everyone else.

      the founding fathers were NOT mostly Christians read some real history. Also, if your Red State local school system wants to teach religious babble in school – fine. However, your school district must refuse any federal and state funding. Refusal to do so will result in highly educated supreme court reversal of your policy.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Jill

      Actually, this is supposed to be a Republic. It was never intended to be a Democracy. There is a huge difference. Educate yourself, please.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  8. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

    Agreed. It's the very reason CNN is more respected than Fox.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  9. Christian in Action

    Is it a good time to attack people with good intention? I don't think so. I believe it's time to share your love and collaborate efforts. A tragedy should bring people together. It makes me sad to see people using this tragedy to promote their agenda.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • tom

      More than one agenda is being promoted.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Any time is a good time to put stupidity in its place.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • God hates Moore

      ........such as religion.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • ME II

      @Christian Inaction,

      If it gets more help to those in need, then yes, it is the time.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  10. Tim

    Ah yes – prayer is like a rocking chair. You don't get anywhere but it does give you something to do.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • kpotter7

      Love this one.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  11. yoyo

    Everytime I prepare a deceased atheist, they always have the expression that they've just seen a ghost. Christians have the expression that they've just seen God. It's kinda weird actually

    May 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • rock gentry

      is it a OH CRAP DID I EVER SCREW UP looks lol

      May 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Jeff

      Pretty cool that you can talk to the dead.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Prayer does nothing

      Such incredible bullsh!t.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • John Cane

      I think I understand why you are called "yoyo".

      May 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • ME II

      Is lying okay now?

      May 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • bajadelmar

      Just another xian spewing lies.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • imABeliever

      its because they probably saw hell open up its jaws for them

      May 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • sam

      The law of averages says you will eventually post something that isn't outright stupid.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
  12. steve

    CNN.. finding ways to use tragic events to promote atheism.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Religion: Always finding lame ways to trying to make the masses believe in sky fairies. Gradually losing the battle to science and logic and really desperate.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  13. Mikey Barnum, Jr.

    This is such a non-issue!! Let those who pray, pray. Let those you CAN, give. God bless those who can do both or wish to.
    God doesn't tweet. It may be a comfort to those affected to know (via social media) that so many people are praying for them, but unless you are ACTUALLY praying, no prayer was actually made.
    Matthew 6:5,6 states: "And now about prayer. When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I assure you, that is all the reward they will ever get.
    But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you." Nobody needs to know or really cares that you've prayed for others. As a Christian, you should be doing that anyway.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  14. heywood

    How about if you did something and not advertise, announce it, tweet it, facebook it or anything else? Does everyone really have to know your every thought movement or idea, really?

    May 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  15. DE

    Pray to the "god" that caused the tornado.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Annie

      God did not cause this tornado, nature did. People that do not believe in God have no foundation for Faith. Everyone praying, not tweeting, will help these people. Praying does not have a shortcut.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      Annie: But God is the supreme controller of everything according to the believers. Therefore God ultimately DID cause the tornado/ And God ultimately killed those people. Any believer that denies this, is not a true believer.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • imABeliever

      Yes, since God is absolutely sovereign, he had full control over the tornado and did cause it (at least indirectly). But there's nothing wrong with what God did. the people who were affected were sinners, and sinners can't complain when God wipes them out.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      By your idiotic logic, everyone is a sinner. So we should all be swept away by the next storm. What was the sin of the young children at school? Were they daydreaming during math? Did they pass a note to Joey? Did they call Sally a poo-poo head? God bless God for being an @ss.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  16. Uncouth Swain

    Thanks to a reference to godchecker, I found this: http://evidentlyitstrue.com/Standing_Offer.html

    So what atheist in the Maine area willing to take the offer?

    May 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Mike

      So part of the deal is that if a woman accepts the offer, his wife will accompany? Wow, what great faith!

      May 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  17. A dose of reality

    We need to ACTUALLY HELP the folks in Oklahoma rather than sit around and do nothing....oh, I meant pray for them. Prayer: a great way to feel like you are doing something without doing anything.

    May 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • bobo

      People actually get Healed from Prayer..... otherwise known as the laying on of hands....

      May 22, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Ivan Libya

      @Bobo, yes, yes, we've all heard of the priests laying of the hands... on little boys.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Larry S. Blankenship

      Prayer is silly or foolish to people who do not know GOD or have a personnel relationship with JESUS, so they do not know how to pray, when to pray, or what to pray, The GOD that created this world and is in control of the whirl winds, In the Holy Bible GOD'S word in the Book of Nahum Chapter 1: verse 3 tell us that The Lord has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm. "The Lord is in control"
      In 1 Corinthians chapter 2: verse 14, " But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of GOD, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
      When you come to know JESUS as Lord and understand that HE is in control, and knows what is best for each of us because HE created us, and knows the plans HE has for us, you will then understand when to pray and the importance of prayer in the Life of a believing child of GOD.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  18. Anonymous Coward

    People who lived say that "God saved them". So why did God decide to kill those little children?

    May 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Annie

      GOD, did not kill those little one, nature did.

      May 22, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • kpotter7

      Annie, but if god saved some of them, why did he abandon the others. Were they not worthy? Oh, that's right, we can't question god, just trust that he had a reason. Yeah, right.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  19. jj

    and this is why im proud to be canadian, god doesnt seem to like the u.s so much

    May 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • imABeliever

      don't gloat too much or your time will come

      May 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  20. Chad

    CNN is Godless

    May 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • A dose of reality

      GAwd is CNNless. Makes about as much sense....

      May 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.